In this podcast, Guy Raz interviews founders of companies like Airbnb, Southwest Airlines, and Starbucks to figure out how it all started. Not only have all these stories taught me about persistence, innovation, and dealing with failure, but it has validated what I do as a designer.
Pretty much every single successful business failed at first. Innovation is a lot of trial and error, and failure is the only way to learn what won’t work, in order to narrow down what will work. The only way successful companies or even people have gotten their feet on the ground is through persistence.
It took years for McDonald's to be a profitable franchise. People thought Ray Kroc, the founder, was crazy when he pitched this idea to potential investors and owners. He had no credibility and pretty much nothing to show for his work. They were losing money every year at first, but the persistence and definitely some ruthlessness of Ray Kroc brought McDonald's to a working business model. He replaced owners, changed the milkshake to a powdered substance to save on freezer costs, and turned his business model into a real estate provider for franchisees. Now McDonald’s feeds 1% of the Earth’s population every single day. What if he had just given up after the first person turned him down?
My favorite company, Airbnb, had one pivotal moment when they were first starting out. At the time, their biggest market was in New York City. The co-founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky flew out to New York and knocked on the door of all their current users. Gebbia brought a nice camera to take new pictures of the spaces. The magic happened when they actually sat down with the homeowners and asked them where their problems were. They found out certain tasks were taking 11 clicks instead of 3, and that the exchanging of money was very awkward.
They then redesigned the website to accept payment, and they streamlined their search and flow to make it more efficient. This is why user experience design is so important. User-centric design keeps people loyal. Good experiences spread by word of mouth. This is how they eventually expanded into the $3.8 billion business they are today.
All businesses have their unique stories, and there’s something to learn from all of them, but perseverance, grit, and fearlessness are rooted in all their origins. Success rarely happens overnight. I definitely recommend checking out How I Built This With Guy Raz.